Excerpt – The Agirrus Revolt by Constance Brewer
A helicopter circled overhead like an Agirran vulture. The silent rotors allowed the noise of the crowd to wash over Tariq. He took a calming breath. He was late, but that would not be a surprise to his wife, Emira. As Varro Scerdus, he was punctual and proper. In his Tariq Dajti guise, he usually ran late. This time it was a conversation with the Imam and an unexpected encounter with the Lady Scerdus that delayed Tariq’s attendance at one of the most important events of his lifetime.
Tariq looked toward the distant stage in one corner of the square, squinting through his wrap around warglasses against the summer glare. The built-in HUD display fed him information as it connected with facial recognition and threat analysis software. He scanned the crowd, gaze settling on the array of dignitaries far ahead. Representatives of most ethnic and political factions on Agirrus waited on a raised platform as the planetary ambassador introduced notables.
Around Tariq people crowded every corner of Prophet Square. Military with crew-served Gauss rifles ringed the dignitaries, a row of local policija stood in another ring around them, everyone dwarfed by the Square’s centerpiece, a fifteen-meter tall sculpture of a planetary settlement family.
Although it offered a good view of the proceedings the young men guarding it restrained people from climbing the newly re-bronzed statue. Tariq searched the stage again for a glimpse of Emira and found her seated behind Brigadier Barcinus Scerdus. The empty seat next to her reproached Tariq. He winced at the thought of his wife enduring another political function without him, smiling gamely as she tried to explain why her punctual husband Varro Scerdus was late. Changing disguises from cell leader to Brigadier’s son took a while, no matter what the circumstances.
The planetary ambassador droned on, introducing the governor.
Children darted through the crowd and waved multi-colored flags, happy shrieks mingling with the overall positive tone of the mob. Tribally dressed, business-geared, and paramilitary-garbed citizens stood side-by-side, talking, laughing, and generally getting along. Tariq was astounded, and a bit humbled. After generations of in fighting perhaps there was hope for Agirrus.
“If you wish to make it to the stage, you had better let me clear a path.” The towering bodyguard scowled at the crowd, touched a hand to his right ear, and whispered, “Ne! I have him. We are coming. Hold them off just a bit more. We must get closer. He glanced down at Tariq. “My place is with the Brigadier, not out here with you.”
“Your place is where the Brigadier tells you to be, Sava,” Tariq’s personal bodyguard Janko said. “With us.”
“Obviously the Brigadier didn’t trust you to get the job done right,” Sava replied.
It amused Tariq how the two men could snark at each other without once taking their eyes from any potential threat. Of course, weapons detectors at the main entries to the Square made their job a bit easier. Planetary Security was present in force and cameras filmed every millimeter and any possible entry into the plaza. Snipers roamed the rooftops and several VTOL’s covered the airspace.
Cameras recorded possible evidence—they could also be used to direct security troops or snipers toward a potential threat. Tariq touched the shape-memory alloy weave of his outer cloak. Janko wore one also. The enhanced cloaks didn’t raise an eyebrow at the checkpoint. It was a layer of protection a majority of the crowd could ill-afford. He flipped the green ceremonial headdress back from where it shaded his face. Also alloy weave, it consisting of a square of cloth folded to form a triangle and held on by a woven cord. It was important to look the part of a competent rebel leader. Appearances were everything on Agirrus.
“We get to the back of the platform when we get there,” Tariq said with a shrug, bringing his attention back to the bodyguards. “I was on the Brigadier’s business after all.”
Before either man could reply a woman in swirling tribal costume pushed her way through the shifting throng. “Young man! You are Dajti? Yes? The Leader’s Voice?” A slender forefinger pointed at him. “Do you bring wisdom from the Imam?”
At the mention of the Imam, a ripple of quiet spread outward as people paused to listen.
Sava gave a snort of exasperation. “We must get to the stage.”
“In due time.” It was important to talk with the people, for them to trust him. Tariq placed his hands together and gave a half bow. “I bring words from the Imam. I relay them to Brigadier Scerdus so he can inform all the people of Agirrus.”
“Do not tease an old woman. I may not live long enough to hear the wisdom of the Imam the way these politicians talk.” She pulled a corner of a flowered headscarf loose and fanned herself with it.
He grinned. “I doubt that, Honored One. Today is a wondrous day for Agirrus. There will be peace between factions and new contracts for mineral export. What could the Imam say that could top that?” Before the old woman or others could chastise him, Tariq held up a hand. “The Imam, as always, reminds you he is a humble man seeking peace. He is pleased with today’s events. You will hear his full words when Brigadier Scerdus takes the stage.” At that, Tariq let himself be ushered away by the two bodyguards.
“The Brigadier is due to speak very soon! The Governor introduces him and we are too many meters away. Now we do things my way,” Sava snapped, “or the people will never hear what the Imam had to say.” The big bodyguard used his bulk to plow a path through the crowd, leaving upset people in his wake. Tariq was pushed from behind by Janko. He stopped so often to soothe the crowd, even his loyal bodyguard began to mutter like Sava, who growled with impatience.
“We must reach the Brigadier. You must be on the podium before he speaks,” Sava snarled over his shoulder, one meaty hand pushing people from their path.
Tariq followed in the big man’s wake as people scrambled to get out of their way. “What, do you think you are the only one in constant communication with your boss? The Brigadier has already heard what I heard.” Behind them, Janko barked laughter.
“You still need to be present. It’s important.”
He stopped and yanked his cloak from the big man’s grasp. “Why is it of vital importance I be on that stage? I am nobody, just my father’s envoy. The speeches will go on with or without me.”
The bodyguard’s gaze darted around. “I have a job to do and I mean to do it. Deliver you to the stage. Don’t make me drag you like a naughty child.”
Tariq took a step back, eyes narrowed as anger flared. “Just because you work for the Brigadier doesn’t mean you can order me around. You go ahead, Janko will get me there.”
“Let me do my job and you do yours. Deliver the message. That’s what we both want. A message delivered.” The bodyguard glanced around. “We are not close enough. I mean no disrespect, but we must get to the platform. Your wife is waiting. Do you want to disappoint her?”
It was the only thing that caused him to move forward again despite his misgivings. Emira. She needed him.
“I got your back, boss,” Janko said softly from behind.
“Da. Stay close.” Tariq felt his bodyguard grasp the back of his cloak. That was pretty damn close. Janko was a good man.
The crowd thickened. Sava’s rumbled requests for passage grew more frequent. A man questioned him, and Sava stopped their forward progress. They were at the edge of the ring of policija. The crowd was packed together and there was nothing the big man could do. “Wait here,” he told Tariq before he walked away, pushing back through the crowd the way they came and never looking back.
Janko and Tariq exchanged glances. “Is he that sure he’ll lose his job that he would desert you thirty meters from the platform?” Janko asked.
“I have you. I don’t need him.”
“Let me show my ID to the policija. Scerdus credentials will let us through.”
Applause rippled as the governor ended his introduction. When it died to anticipatory silence, Barcinus Scerdus’ distinctive baritone boomed through the sound system. “Today is a day of rejoicing for Agirrus! Today is a day we put old rivalries aside and move forward as one people. Today is the day the Imam prayed for.” Scerdus paused to turn a page of his papers before he looked out over the crowd. His eyes found Tariq’s. “I have prayers from the Imam for all to follow. He sends words of wisdom for our future, the one we envisioned when we all sat down at the table to make a better Agirrus. This is what he said.”
There was a silence so deep Tariq’s trained military ear could hear the almost imperceptible whine of explosives arming. Janko yanked sideways on his cloak, forced him to the ground and threw himself on top, flattening Tariq to the ground. That was probably the thing that saved him as the settlement family sculpture exploded outward in a deadly spray of expensive metal.
© 2020 Constance Brewer